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Journalism in conflict zones

News: Nov 16, 2016

Bert Sundström from SVT citing a story from his reportage.

Tips and techniques for journalists from experts to report from war and conflict zones: know where to run when in danger, work in pairs, learn languages, map your exits, and know the local culture…

In the latest edition of Open Lectures organized at University of Gothenburg’s JMG, the lecture was on ‘the Safety of Journalists in War and Conflict Zones’ participated by Jonathan Lindqvist from Reporters Without Borders, Bert Sundström from SVT, and Magnus Falkehed from Expressen. In two hours, they shared their views and experiences on journalism’s pivotal aspects: censorship, reporting from conflict zones (riot-hit areas at home and abroad), precautions the reporters should take while posted in war zones among others.

Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) representative from Sweden, Jonathan Lindqvist, briefed the audience about the activities of the organization which has correspondents in 150 countries hired both fulltime and part-time except in few countries like North Korea. It is the leading organization in compiling annually the ‘press freedom index’, in protecting journalists, fights against censorships, and most importantly fights on behalf of journalists in protecting their ‘sources’.

Beware of BLUE COAT: The Enemy of Internet (Freedom)

Jonathan Lindqvist pointed to the growing use of BLUE COAT by countries across the world including the leading democratic countries like the USA and India.

BLUE COAT is American online security system knowns for its Internet censorship equipment using censorship devices. The devices are also used by Internet Service Providers to manage traffic and disconnect unwanted connections. It is notorious for monitoring journalists’ and netizens’ sources. The device can ‘smoke out’ online content that uses censored and banned words, thus undermining the Net Neutrality and freedoms at personal and professional levels but a sought-after software for authoritarian and dictatorial regimes.

In 2011, 13 Blue Coat devices were found in Myanmar (formerly Burma), in Syria in 2012 and also used by regimes in Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. A study was conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab on internet’s censoring and surveillance devices used around the world.

Mr Lindqvist termed self-censorship as one of the most undetectable forms of censorship plaguing the world, and confronting the compilation of ‘press freedom index’.

Bert Sundström the foreign correspondent of SVT brought to the attention of the audience on the pitfalls (how to run from dangers for life) and excitements (having a whisky at the local press club) of reporting from conflict zones. He highlighted the challenges he faced in sourcing a story with examples from the wars in Yugoslavia (dismembered now but represented by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, Serbia and Kosovo), South Asia, and from Africa including the countries that saw Arab Spring. He advised the audience ‘to know where to run’ from the dangers. The dangerous zones and areas of reporting are not only in Southern Hemisphere but also in Europe as witnessed in France and Belgium including terrorists taking control of spaces of mass gatherings such as concert arenas and stadiums. He said, if one cannot run in a situation of danger posed by terrorists or soldiers, fight, do something!

Once the small town boy, Bert Sundström, was deeply influenced to become a doctor or an engineer as result of his encounters with poverty in South America, and was ‘very upset’ about that. He returned to Sweden to study medicine or engineering but after studying from Uppsala University, he found his calling was in reporting the affairs of the world for the Swedish audience. He said, wars and catastrophes around the world gave him the job and his reportage includes Kashmir in the Indian subcontinent to Ukraine.

Bert emphasized that apart from wearing the right gear (bullet-proof vests and helmets) as demanded of a journalist reporting from conflict zones, he stressed that it is important for the journalist to prepare to be there mentally and intellectually.

Magnus Falkehed from Expressen told the audience about the merits and demerits of rumours that one will hear when a correspondent/reporter is posted in a war zone such as in Syria or ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq. He alerted the would-be journalists as how the journalists have become—and are increasingly becoming—targets of terrorists or state-sponsored goons, even though sojourning in a star-hotel. He noted the importance of being ‘on the move’ in a conflict area, to watch out for people who maybe disguised as soldiers or police in order to mislead others.

Magnus Falkehed and Niclas Hammarström were kidnapped in 2014 when they were on their way to the airport in Beirut, Libya to fly home. They were in captivity for 46 days. They have chronicled their experiences in their book ‘IDAG SKA VI INTE DÖ: Fångar i Krigets Syrien’.

One of the advises the audiences got from the experts is: learn another language or languages if one is serious and aims to report from other parts of the world, and to have some knowledge of the local culture before hitting there such as how to dress (using common sense). They also reminded the audience that the definition of frontlines of war zones is no more traditional. The frontlines have become diffused and dispersed such as in ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq. Bert Sundström pointed out to the attacks and riots in Europe, and how journalists should be prepared to report.

The lecture elicited answers for the following questions in a Q & A session:

  • How to prepare oneself to report from a conflict zone, especially for the first time?
  • Are women disadvantaged, or, advantaged to report from war and riot-hit areas?
  • Will gender determine to the advantage of male or female while reporting from conflict zones?
  • Means to keep the adrenaline in control especially for men when in excitingly-dangerous areas of the world while to report for a television station or newspaper for the home country?
  • How to believe the translator who is interpreting the interview of the interviewee for the interviewer?
  • Is it safe to be on-duty in a conflict or war zone in the era of ubiquitous internet connectivity?
  • What is the future of investigative journalism?

Listen to the questions, answers and discussions.


Text, film, photos by Kovuuri G. Reddy.

The Open Lecture was organized by Reporters Without Borders, Postkodslotteriets Cultural Foundation and JMG (Department of Journalism, Media and Communication), University of Gothenburg.


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